May 8, 2005 3:05pm
Letter from Santa Fe
When honoring our war dead is a criminal act
By Heidi Utz
May 5-12 2005
The moral dyslexia of the times notwithstanding, my eyebrow sill raised when out local chapter of Veterans for Peace (VFP) recently became embroiled in a legal battle with the National Cemetery administration. In March, on the second anniversary of the Iraq way, the vets wished to hold a memorial service on cemetery grounds. This was not to be a political action Eno signs would be carried, no war-critical speeches uttered Ebut rather, a solemn service to include the words of several local ministers and flowers placed on the graves of the fallen.
However, once cemetery administrators heard the name Veterans for Peace, the claimed that federal regulators forbade "partisan activities." We won't mention all the partisan words that get bandied about in places like Arlington National Cemetery. As far as cemetery managers are concerned, our boy Webster changed the definition of partisan to mean "anti-war."
As cemetery director Roseann Santore turned a deaf ear to what was actually being proposed, VFP adapted their plans accordingly. They moved their memorial to the Santa Fe Plaza and then walked quietly to the cemetery itself. On the day of the event, Santore called in VA police and asked them to cite 18 VFP members waiting peacefully at cemetery gates with yellow roses, after having walked a mile and a half in the freezing rain to pay their tribute. These "cemetery criminals" will now be spending June 22 facing trespassing charges in federal court.
VFP detractors seem to forget that this is not a cabal of "dirty hippies," [And so what if they are hippies? Does that make hippies less of a human being even if they're not into fashion and style and dressing well and all that?] but a dedicated group of men and women who have strong feelings of love and devotion for their country -- what used to be known as patriotism. All of them have served in the military, many in active duty. Local chapter president Ken Mayers retired as a major in the Marines after many years of service during Vietnam. Others received Purple Hearts. They are not "traitors" or "wafflers," but simply people who have witnessed the realities of war firsthand, and thus, have formed an educated opinion about its judicious use. [Amen. Until George Bush, Snr and Jnr & Company SEND their own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, etc to (this) war, they are nothing but goddamn Hypocrites and Phoneys as far as I'm concerned!]
WFP often describes its mission as "honoring the warrior, not the war." So their actions cannot be construed as failing to support our young soldiers in Iraq. More likely they're guilty of raising the questions that few seem to have the guts to ask publicly: Since no weapons of mass destruction existed, why are we in this war? Is it a cause worth killing thousands of our young people over? When will we plan an exit strategy?
And though the current administration wants us to believe that no one who goes off to Iraq ever comes back in a casket, VFP members have had the courage to remind us that it's human beings who are fighting -- and dying -- in Iraq. Since the war began, member Tim Origer has assembled banners showing names and photos of the dead, their ages, hometowns, and how they perished. Though the many casualties have made it hard to keep up with, he's so far constructed 28 banners of 39 soldiers each. Some are brightly smiling, some arrogant, some flat with fear, most just pups. It's hard to look at their faces without realizing they're somebody's kids. The government would rather we not see these images because when 1,730 real human beings are out there dying, it makes a war based on little but Bush and Cheney's empires seem even more reprehensible. And when people start to gainsay the war, the foundations of our war-mongering culture begin to shake.
The cemetery case obviously raises issues of free speech, being addressed by ACLU attorney George Bach, who is representing VFP. "This is an important case because of the systematic suppression of free speech pervading the country right now...It's another symptom of suppressing the reality of war," Bach notes. "These veterans fought for the right to speak up, and that's what our troops our now doing. The VFP are engaging in [the same] actions the troops are out there fighting for."
The point that's being lost in this incident is that VFP was attempting to honor the fallen. Sure, they have spoken out against the war, but that's irrelevant, as this particular ceremony was designed solely as a memorial. And I could have sworn that the raison d'etre for a national cemetery was to memorialize. As Bach states, "The VFP were trying to further what was happening in the cemetery. They were not trying to offend people with family members there. Some VFP members themselves have family there." If cemetery administrators had taken a moment to converse with the group, hours of litigation could have been avoided.
As this case shows, paying tribute to those who have died in war is not always so simple. When young people opt to join the military and potentially sacrifice their lives for their countries, they do so based on their own opinions about how to demonstrate their patriotism. It's commendable, this impulse to put love of country into action. However, these soldiers also leave behind family, friends and neighbors who may have very different beliefs about how best to serve their fellow humans. We can't always believe in the causes our friends and families devote their lives to. So when that individual dies in battle, how realistic is it to expect us to suddenly morph into war supporters? Yet, this seems precisely what we're being asked to do: to somehow pay tribute to the fallen by throwing our support behind the very entity that expedited their deaths.
I can think of many ways to honor a son, a brother or a friend without deeming a pre-emptive war based on extremely suspect arguments a boon to civilization. Perhaps honoring our soldiers for the people they were and the ideals they held -- not the war they fought -- could be a start.